1. Joshua 3:1–4:24 (ESV)
  2. Structure and outline

An overarching theme of Joshua 3–4

Joshua 3:1–4:24 (ESV)

1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over.

Joshua 3—4 emphasizes the fact that the Lord is the living God (Joshua 3:9). In contrast with the gods of Canaan (and any other gods for that matter) the Lord is alive. He really does exist. He is not a figment of Israelite imagination or a creation of human beings.

There are three details from these chapters in particular that highlight this truth:

  1. The miraculous nature of the river crossing

    The people of Israel are told that they must prepare themselves for a miracle that will demonstrate the Lord’s power and presence among them (Joshua 3:1–13). When the priests arrive at the river, the waters of the Jordan are heaped up and the people cross over on dry land (Joshua 3:14–17). The waters of the Jordan did not stop because there was an earthquake or some other natural phenomenon. The ground did not dry out naturally in seconds because of some special sand. There was a real miracle that took place.

  2. The presence of the ark of the covenant

    The ark of the covenant is mentioned on several occasions throughout the chapter. The ark symbolized the Lord’s presence among his people in such a way that the Israelites considered the ark to be where the Lord was. The idea was that where the ark goes is where the Lord goes, what the ark accomplishes is what the Lord is busy accomplishing.
    When we read in Joshua 3:15 that the waters part as the ark reaches the edge of the river, and in Joshua 4:18 the waters return when the ark is on the opposite bank, that is meant to show us that the Lord of the covenant is the one who is drying up the river. God is with his people, he will drive his enemies out of the land. He will give rest to Israel.

    The real presence of the Lord is also emphasized by the distance between the people of Israel and the ark (Joshua 3:4). The people must stay far way from the ark, not only because they don’t know where to go, but also that it might be clear to everyone that it was not the people of Israel who parted the Jordan River. Joshua did not do some magic trick. The priests didn’t build a bridge. No, it was the living God who parted the waters. The Lord was leading them into the Promised Land.

  3. The memorial stones of Gilgal

    To make sure that this truth is not forgotten by future generations, the Israelites are commanded to set up memorial stones in Gilgal (Joshua 4:1–24). Time can easily cloud a memory. Big and important events are quickly forgotten. Memorial stones are set up so that people may know what happened on that fateful day and who was responsible. This was meant to help future generation to fear the Lord even in the absence of miracles.